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  • Amina Aitsi-Selmi

How to know when to speak up: 5 questions to check in with yourself [Wise Wednesdays]

Ram Dass once said: You think you’re enlightened? Go spend a week with your family!...

Whether it’s colleagues, teams or family, communication can be tricky even if you’re super self-aware.

Developing strong communication that helps you share your ideas, reduce conflict and lead your career and life in a way that feels fulfilling is worthwhile work indeed.

In fact, the Buddha made it one of his core teachings alongside meditation.

And the holiday season is perfect for expanding your self-awareness.

A client put the challenge thus: how do you know when to speak up and when to hold back?

You can check in using 5 guiding questions to distinguish between speaking as a creative and powerful act versus when it’s just an automatic habit or anxiety that doesn’t serve you.

But first, let's talk about vibe.


I believe prevention is better than cure. So to be a powerful communicator, you need to create a certain vibe around you. Some people might call it an “aura”. I’m going to call it a communication micro-culture.

Your communication micro-culture reflects your level of presence as you enter the room before you’ve even said a word.

What does that mean in practice?

Psychology tells us that relationships are best viewed as educational projects…We’re constantly ‘educating’ others in how to treat us and vice versa.

Failing to realise this means we’re defaulting to habits and impulse rather than embracing the possibility of conscious, intimate, beautiful relating in which we learn about each other.

Creating your own micro-culture simply means setting the norms, boundaries and values that you operate by and ‘educating’ others about them (while learning about theirs).

You can take some time to identify your own set of values for communication (this is an important reflective exercise that you can review and refresh regularly).

But if you want a starter pack, the Buddha was a master of checklists. Here’s one he taught for knowing when to say something:

1) Is it true?

So many of us bend our truth to fit in to a group or as part of a people-pleasing habit. But it’s important to be honest with yourself at least about what you think and feel (as well as what is fact versus opinion!) People can sense when you’re being true, even if it’s subconscious, and that affects trust. Take time to know what you really want to say (or not say).

2) Is it kind?

Sometimes, you may be set on speaking a piece of your mind to someone and accidentally bring a harshness to it. That makes it hard for the other person to hear. While your words have a role in sharing your truth, your non-verbal (body language) and para-verbal (voice tone and volume) cues are the packaging with which the words are delivered. A little kindness in your intention, words and tone can make all the difference between getting your point across and a drama fest!

3) Is it helpful?

There are plenty of true things that you can say kindly, but if you did, you’d never stop talking! Gossip might be true and spoken in a gentle tone but whether it’s useful…So if you’re in a meeting wondering whether to speak up, check in with the why i.e. the reason for the meeting and why you’re there. Let that shape what you choose to contribute to the conversation.

4) Is it timely?

Sometimes something challenging needs to be said. But saying it in the heat of the moment or when someone is just about to rush out of the door may not be the best timing for your words to land. Use your intuition to sense the right timing.

5) Is it conducive to harmony?

Powerful communication is not easy and may cause ripples and even ruffle a few feathers. That’s how justice can be restored and the status quo challenged. If it ultimately helps to nourish, heal or evolve the social fabric we’re all embedded in, then it’s a true gift you’re offering and your courage will be medicine for the group.

When you show up with more presence in your communication and embody the values you care about, you’re creating a communication micro-culture around you – your vibe. It transforms the state and behaviour of people who enter your field. The more present you are, the stronger your field.

You’ll also start to notice something interesting: poor communication from others often comes from their lack of presence or lack of skill in sharing their experience rather than malicious intent. But it’s also not your responsibility.

Realising this deeply, you will feel less triggered by others and you’ll know exactly what to say and when. One of my clients experienced this epiphany recently when he realised that his colleague’s vitriolic viciousness had NOTHING to do with him. It freed up a huge amount of headspace!

When you speak from presence and power, your possibilities expand in relationship. Relationships feel more fluid, creative and nourishing. Or as another client put it today: “What I’ve noticed is that voicing my opinions from presence has been leading to opening up conversations and connections with people.”

What micro-culture do you want to create around you? What becomes possible if you speak from the values that you care about?

Feel free to share your insights by email or drop a comment on LinkedIn or Instagram.

Have a harmonious week,


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